Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Unfortunately for family and friends, I am not the best at distributing my event and travel photos in a timely manner. I usually take so many photos that it seems overwhelming to sort through them all, and then life gets busy and I easily move on to more urgent matters. I hope to make small amends with these small uploads, and I begin with some zebras.

It may be due to the sheer number of zebras in the crater, or that I’m particularly fascinated by zebras, or a bit of both, but a large portion of my safari photos consist of these guys. I also realized that both my phone and laptop backgrounds are zebra photos from this trip. I think it also has to do with the fact that zebras were some of the least skittish animals in the crater, so it was relatively easy to get up close and personal (while hiding in the car).

Forodhani Night Market

Stonetown, Zanzibar

Barely survived a round of finals and slowly trying to pick up pieces of my life again (I am dramatic).

One of the best motivators for bettering myself in anything is seeing the brilliant work of someone I admire, or just brilliant work in general. I stumbled across a friend’s photography portfolio today and was awed by the extent of his travels and the depth of his photos. It’s such a beautiful day outside today that I think I might just have to go for a walk…

I also realized that I still have an enormous amount of photos to go through from Tanzania. This is a shot from the Forodhani night market in Stonetown, which is possibly the most delicious night market I’ve been to. Zanzibar pizza is like a crêpe on steroids, absolutely necessary to try, and the many other tables sell freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, mishkaki, rambutan fruits, and snacks on snacks on snacks.

Spice Tour in Zanzibar

Cardamom, the princess of spices

While in Zanzibar this past weekend, I went on one of their famous spice tours. Spices were once the major export of Zanzibar, and they’re still intimately tied with the island, but intertwined with tourism. The tour consists of touching, smelling, and ultimately tasting the spices and fruits of Zanzibar. Throughout my one-on-one  guided tour, a local was making me various things made from banana leaf and adorned with hibiscus flowers — I ended up with a purse, a ring, a frog necklace, a hat, and a cone to hold samples of the spices. My guide told me about the origins and uses of various spices and fruits, and we ended the tour with a generous sampling of fruits, fresh coconut water, and a local lunch using the spices we saw.

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Kariakoo & Mzizima Fish Market

(Kariakoo market & Mzizima Fish Market. Photos taken with my point-and-shoot because I didn’t want to risk my SLR being stolen)

Last Thursday, A and I went to downtown to explore. I’d never been to a legit African fish market, so we decided to do it the right way and head straight for Mzizima Fish Market in Kivukoni instead of going for the “gentle introduction” that is in Msasani. We stepped off the bajaj and were greeted by throngs of people selling seafood in large platters complete with chile sauce and fried sardine (?) things in recycled paper cones. A suggested we find the actual fish market by following our noses — sound advice, because 2 steps later I was hit by the unmistakeable aroma of sea creatures.

It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. An expanse of platforms with piles upon piles of fish, people yelling in Swahili, the ground permanently caked with fish scales and questionable liquids. We walked, people stared and yelled out their usual greetings towards foreigners. I stepped over a stingray the size of a twin bed. After browsing for a bit, we decide we had to buy a fish and have it fried for us. While bargaining for the fish shown (fried) above, another seller approaches me and starts shoving a lobster in my face, insisting I buy it. I refused, but perhaps not firmly enough as I was still talking to the first man about the fish, and the second seller remains at my side, staring at me as the lobster tentacles poke into my clothes. After settling on a price, the fish seller leads us to the “kitchen”: an outdoors seating area encircling barrels of rice and ugali and buckets of water of varying cleanliness. The seller tells us to sit at a bench with just enough space for the two of us, and I plop down next to a man skillfully picking meat off of bones. A couple of minutes later, our seller brings us our fried fish that we demolished with our fingers. Freaking delicious.

After the fish market, we trekked to Kariakoo where I bought curries for 25 cents USD a bag, a quarter kilo of millets (“full of protein to make you strong!”), local eggplants, and another kanga. We ate coconuts and passionfruit from the street and ended at Chef’s Pride for dinner, where I had mutton stew and A a hotdog. An amazing day.

HIV/AIDS Care in Tanzania

There is so much to say about the hospital where I’m working that I keep feeling too intimidated to write about it, and as a result fall more and more behind. A vicious cycle.

With every passing day and with every longing for certain modern conveniences, I see how incredibly spoiled we are in the US, how high our expectations are. This observation extends much beyond the scope of health care, but I’m going to focus on this first. Take, for example, basic sanitation. If you go into any major hospital in the US, there are going to be signs for Handwashing saves lives! Without a doubt, the handwashing crusade is important, and I would personally be horrified if my doctor even touched my face without washing his/her hands first. But in the hospital where I work in Tanzania, and at every other hospital I’ve been to here, there isn’t even running water. There are sinks, yes, but they’re dry, and I sometimes wonder why they even exist. Decoration? To give an impression of cleanliness? Instead, they use a bucket system where a stand holds a water-filled bucket with a small tap (like a water cooler), and there is a pail underneath the tap to catch the run off. The bottle of soap kept next to the bucket is usually diluted and frustratingly watery. Even with this, I almost never see any of the providers wash their hands while they examine the patients. And there are certainly no gloves.

And what about the doctor-patient relationship, the good bedside manner, that is the topic of so many magazine columns and form the buzzwords of medical education in the US? While I can’t describe the verbal exchanges with blazing clarity because of my ineptitude in Swahili, I can note that if an American were to seek care here, s/he wouldn’t last a half hour before erupting in a fiery rage over the often day-long wait time for a 3 minute visit with the doctor who does not hesitate to pick up her cell phone and have a chat in the middle of it.

Patient privacy is also high on the priority list for Americans, what with HIPAA and patients suing for reasons like exposure that they even sought care in the first place. Here, doctor visits and counseling sessions are done with the door wide open with other patients waiting in clusters outside the rooms. On Friday, there were a total of 12 patients in the room while I was trying frantically to keep them straight. As one patient is being wrapped up, the doctor sometimes tells him/her the full name of the next patient to call out when s/he goes back to the waiting room. Patients watch me as I’m working on other patient files right in front of them. Keep in mind that I work at a clinic that exclusively treats HIV+ patients. What confuses me further is the accompanying stigma associated with HIV/AIDS — why, then, is there lack of any attempt at guarding patient privacy? I know for a fact that patients do mind; I’m told that if they see someone they know, they make a run for it. One patient did her visit through a window because she refused to enter the hospital and let the people in the waiting areas see her and consequently know her status. Yet there seems to be no movement towards greater privacy and I have heard no real complaints from either the provider or patient side. Perhaps people have come to unhappily accept it.

On the other hand, HIV/AIDS care here is free and highly organized. The only cost patients must pay are transportation (which is major barrier to followup) and time. To be honest, I don’t know much about HIV/AIDS care in the US besides the fact that it’s expensive so I can’t compare specifics, but the care that I see in my hospital is comprehensive and integrated. In one day, patients will be group educated in nutrition/importance of ARV’s/importance of disclosure to relatives/etc, individually counseled on safe sex*/family planning/health maintenance, seen by a doctor, undergo any lab tests, and pick up their drugs. There are three blocks of patients a day and they move in a circular fashion around the hospital because the rooms they visit are sequential in terms of the services they receive. The documentation forms are standardized nationally; patients carry a CTC-1 form on their person that entitles them to free treatment regardless of which hospital or dispensary they go to, and the health center keeps a CTC-2 form (among other documentation) that records their health status and ARV regimen. If patients miss their scheduled appointments, they are tracked by health workers who determine the reason for their absence and counsel them to come back. I saw the form the trackers use — reasons include, but are not limited to: died, lack of transportation, not HIV+ (e.g. because they believe they were cured by religion).

To make a sweeping conclusion, let’s just emphasize the importance of traveling here. Not just for cultural intelligence and a more holistic view of how the world really works, but even in health care alone, there is much to be learned from any country, not just ones that are seen to be highly technologically advanced. Countries with fewer resources learn to be more resourceful and often yield impressive results with very little.

* The counselor I worked with for a little bit told me that they use a wooden penis model to demonstrate proper condom use. When I asked her to see it because I hadn’t seen one before, she asked me, “you don’t have a boyfriend?” and laughed. I told her I just hadn’t seen a wooden model because we use ndizi (bananas) in the US. I’m pretty sure the model is made from ebony — high quality stuff — and it comes with its own stand. After a minute or two, the counselor announced that she had to put it away because it would scare the children.

Snakes in Bagamoyo

Bagamoyo, Tanzania

As I’m typing this, I’m eyeing my gecko roommates as they slither around my walls. There are a few little ones in the mix and I’m imagining that many of them are related.

Last Sunday, a few of us went to Bagamoyo to hang out with the kids at an orphanage. Within the first 15 minutes, there was a snake sighting among the dried palm leaves which led to some quite varied reactions, as you might be able to tell from the photo. Apparently kids here are told some intense tales regarding snakes and their supernatural powers and many of the children were afraid to even look at the snake after it was caught. We took a tour of their small but surprisingly well-equipped schoolhouse/classroom and got our butts kicked in baseball by one of the kids, who is likely destined for MLB. The orphanage itself is run by an American woman who’s lived in Tanzania for years. Two of the youngest kids are HIV+, and many have parents with mental illnesses that render them incapable of caring for their children. I hadn’t thought about this before, but it’s easier (for the orphanage) if the kids are simply abandoned; having parents who flit in and out of the kids’ lives makes for a much more complex situation.